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2006-12-01

Facing Fierce Protest, Mexico’s Calderon Takes Power in Unprecedented Midnight Ceremony; Opposition Lawmakers Vow to Block Inauguration

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Felipe Calderon has taken over as Mexico’s president in an unusual midnight ceremony at the presidential residence in Mexico City. Opposition lawmakers are vowing to physically block him from being inaugurated in Congress. Meanwhile, tension remains high in the southern state of Oaxaca where the federal police are attempting to crush a popular uprising. [includes rush transcript]

In Mexico, opposition lawmakers are vowing to physically block Felipe Calderon from being inaugurated today as Mexico’s next president.

Calderon has been widely accused by supporters of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of stealing July’s election. Lopez Obrador has refused to recognize the election results and claims that he is the legitimate president of Mexico. He is planning to lead a major protest in Mexico City today.

Early this morning outgoing Mexican president Vicente Fox transferred power to Calderon in a midnight ceremony at the presidential residence. Then Calderon addressed the nation.

  • Felipe Calderon, national televised address.

Tension has been rising inside the Mexican Congress as well. On Tuesday supporters of Lopez Obrador and Calderon began fist-fighting on the floor on Congress. Injured lawmakers had to be carried out of the building.

Calderon’s inauguration comes as tension remains high in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca where the federal police are attempting to crush a popular uprising. On Saturday police arrested over 150 protesters following a large protest march and more have been detained or disappeared since as police search for members of APPO, the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca. Several leaders of APPO have reportedly disappeared including a chief spokesperson Cesar Mateos Benitez. Meanwhile protesters have surrendered control of a university radio station that they had converted into Radio APPO.

  • David Brooks, U.S. Bureau Chief for the Mexican daily newspaper La Jornada.
  • John Gibler, independent journalist based in Mexico and Global Exchange Human Rights Fellow. He joins us on the line from Mexico City.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Early this morning, outgoing Mexican President Vicente Fox transferred power to Calderon in a midnight ceremony at the presidential palace. Then, Calderon addressed the nation.

FELIPE CALDERON: I appeal to congress to respect the inauguration and the need to strengthen Mexico’s institution and the legislature’s patriotism, so that all can be done with full respect of the constitution. I do not ignore the complexity of the political situation or our differences, but I am convinced that today we must put an end to our disagreements and initiate a new era that has as its only objective to put the interests of the nation above our differences.

AMY GOODMAN: Tension has been rising inside the Mexican congress, as well. On Tuesday, supporters of Lopez Obrador and Calderon began fist-fighting on the floor on Congress. Injured lawmakers had to be carried out of the building.

Calderon’s inauguration comes as tension remains high in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, where the federal police are attempting to crush a popular uprising. On Saturday, police arrested over 150 people, following a large protest march, and more have been detained or disappeared since, as police search for members of APPO, the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca. Several leaders of APPO have reportedly disappeared, including a chief spokesperson Cesar Mateos Benitez. Meanwhile, protesters have surrendered control of a university radio station that they had converted into Radio APPO.

David Brooks joins us here in New York City. He is the US Bureau Chief for the Mexican daily newspaper, La Jornada. On the phone from Oaxaca is Gustavo Esteva. He is the founder of the University of the Land in Oaxaca and author of many books, including Grassroots Post-Modernism: Remaking the Soil of Cultures. Gustavo has also been a columnist for La Jornada. And we’re also joined in Mexico City in the Zocalo, in the square, by independent journalist John Gibler.

Let’s start there. Can you describe the scene, John, in Mexico City right now?

JOHN GIBLER: Good morning. Hundreds of people are beginning to pour into the Zocalo, where Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has called his supporters to gather to decide early this morning what steps to take in their protest of Felipe Calderon’s inauguration today. People are pouring in from every street, as we’ve seen time and time again over the past few months when Lopez Obrador has called the protests in. There is less paraphernalia this time, but just as many people walking in from all directions.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about the reaction to the unprecedented midnight ceremony in the president’s residence last night handing over power to Calderon?

JOHN GIBLER: Initially, shock and laughter. People — I was actually somewhere where people were watching a soccer game on television, and immediately the television screen just switched to the national anthem being sung and Fox standing next to Calderon, both of them looking kind of stiff. People had no clue what was happening, and they’ve never seen anything like this in — there hasn’t been a movement like this in the history of the country. And people pretty much saw it as a gesture of the weakened legitimacy of the transfer of power.

AMY GOODMAN: David Brooks, can you talk about the significance of what we’re seeing right now: in the streets, major protests; Calderon, hidden away, taking power; and the reports in congress right now, riot equipment seen laid out?

DAVID BROOKS: That’s right. And it’s a manifestation of the deep uncertainty that’s now affecting every aspect of Mexican political life, and particularly probably the inauguration of one of the weakest presidents in Mexican history. The fact that despite — that Vicente Fox, the outgoing president, had to go to pray at the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe and then returned at midnight for a private ceremony with no public and no popular participation in the fortress of the Mexican White House, and that there’s deep uncertainty as to whether Felipe Calderon will be able to appear at the congress this morning to be formally inaugurated, raises what’s been happening in Mexico for the last many months, that there is a deep fragmentation of the political structure, of the system and a tremendous — of a president that’s perceived by millions to be illegitimate.

And so, this is how it starts. And he faces now a country that is in crisis, both on the economic, on the political, on the social level. And so, this weakness in confronting this major moment in Mexican history is quite a contrast to six years ago, when we were all told that we were now celebrating the beginning of democracy in Mexico with Vicente Fox and the alternates in power and the institutionalization of democracy in Mexico. And now, the congress is surrounded by about 500 navy personnel, along with riot cops. The fact that there’s repressions going on in Oaxaca and in other places, the fact that Vicente Fox is going out with blood on his hands and that the incoming president has to face this and nothing is resolved, is not an auspicious beginning, to say the least.

AMY GOODMAN: And the fist-fighting on the floor of the congress, what the floor looks like right now?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, over the last three days it’s been — as you said, it started with a confrontation, because Felipe Calderon’s party, the parliamentarians of that party, the congressmen, were terrified that Lopez Obrador’s party, the PRD, were going to take over the podium and that way make it impossible for Felipe Calderon to come in this morning and take the oath and whatever, so they rushed the podium.

AMY GOODMAN: The PAN.

DAVID BROOKS: The PAN did. And so the PAN has now taken over the podium for the last three days to make sure that there’s a little passageway where Felipe Calderon can come in. And so they’ve all stayed overnight. Two nights ago, they started singing classic Mexican songs in the middle of the night. There was romances going on. People were sleeping there, all holding their positions, and supposedly there was supposed to be an agreement as to what would happen today. No agreement was reached as of last night, and so nobody knows what’s about to happen in about an hour and a half, if and when Felipe Calderon arrives at the congress.

AMY GOODMAN: And in the midst of all of this, a previous president, Echeverria, was just charged with war crimes for the Tlatelolco killings, the university killings in 1968.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. One of the great — one of the main promises of Vicente Fox was that he was finally going to let the truth come out of Mexico’s secret wars, in which about 600 people were disappeared in the '60s and ’70s, and including in the ’80s, and that there was going to be a full investigation and that we would all know who was involved, who was responsible and who was to be — and they were to be brought to accountability. This was almost a symbolic act on almost the last day of — they have accused Echeverria before. Like three times, it's failed. He’s now under house arrest. But it’s sort of like a parting symbolic gesture, because in fact there has been no accountability 'til now. We still don't — nobody’s been brought to justice for all these crimes. So again, we have a house arrest, but people assume it’s a symbolic thing at this point.

AMY GOODMAN: John Gibler, you’re right now in the Zocalo, but you’ve just come from Oaxaca. You’ve got a very graphic piece about a young man who was hooded, who was taken away. Can you describe what’s happening in the southern state of Oaxaca right now?

JOHN GIBLER: After clashes between protesters and federal police on Saturday, November 25, the federal and state police forces began a kind of witch-hunt operation, where they’ve been going across Oaxaca, Oaxaca City, where the protests have been concentrated for the past six months, looking for people who have been involved in the movement, picking them up off the street, whether or not they’re involved in any protest action at that moment or not, or actually whether or not they’ve been involved in the protest or not, and arbitrarily detaining people, torturing them, and planting evidence on them, forcing them to sign false confessions, and then sending them off to jail.

This happened in an incredibly poignant case of a young man, this university student and volunteer at a human rights organization in Mexico City called Yaxkin, who had come here on Monday, November 27. He had arrived in Oaxaca to document cases of forced disappearances. And within hours of his arrival, as he was walking between the university and another area to go and gather testimonies, he himself was disappeared, highlighting the incredible arbitrary nature of what he had come himself to bear witness to and to gather testimony for, so that family members would know where their relatives are being held and what conditions they are being held. But he himself, in the short time of half a day trying to document these cases, himself was grabbed off the street by hooded state police officers, who immediately threw him down, put a hood over his face, began to beat him and two friends he was with, then held him incommunicado, you know, forcibly disappeared for two days.

AMY GOODMAN: And this list that we’re hearing about of about 300 people in Oaxaca, I understand something like 200 leadership of APPO and 100 foreigners. Can you talk about this, a list of people to be apprehended?

JOHN GIBLER: Yeah, there are two lists going around. One is, as you mentioned, those who are supposed to or are considered the leaders of the APPO. These are people who have been very active in the organization of different civil disobedience activities throughout the months of the protests and who in the past two weeks became consejeros or advisors, council members of the new structure that the APPO took on during its congressional meeting they held on November 15. So this list comes from the people who had been elected by different organizations, different regional indigenous or farm labor groups who had to put their representatives forth to be their voices in the APPO or the assembly structure. So that’s one of the main lists.

And those are the people who I think are running the most danger right now. And these are people — you know, we’re talking about preschool teachers and indigenous farmworkers, and yeah, there are several people in there who have worked in non-governmental organizations for a while. Most of these people are everyday working people who put their lives on the line in supporting this civil disobedience uprising in Mexico.

There’s also a list, which no one has seen, or no one I’ve been able to speak to in the government or the press has actually seen a copy, but this magical list of a hundred foreigners who have supposedly jumped in and violated Mexican federal law by actually directly participating in the protest. That number seems extremely inflated to me. I have been there for months, and it’s pretty easy to pick out the foreigners sometimes, and I have definitely haven’t seen a hundred people running around throwing rocks.

AMY GOODMAN: David Brooks, the use of foreigners in situations like this?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I mean, throughout Mexican history, one problem with — foreigners are, by the constitution, are not allowed to participate in internal Mexican politics and can be expelled within 24 hours if caught under a constitutional article. But also in the past, authorities have used the presence of foreigners to say that these are the outside instigators, that Mexicans don’t go on strike and Mexicans don’t, you know — and this has been over decades — don’t do this.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, the teachers are striking now, aren’t they?

DAVID BROOKS: Right. There are 70,000 teachers that have called a 48-hour work stoppage in the state of Oaxaca, as we speak. And so, the problem is that often foreigners are accused of being the instigators, and therefore, the reason why repression comes in. And we’ve seen some of this, an attempt at this, with the Brad Will case, you know, where all of a sudden it’s legitimate — the federal government used — tried to use the Brad Will case as a way to send in federal troops under pressure by the US embassy.

AMY GOODMAN: Brad Will, the independent journalist from the New York Indymedia Center, who was killed about a month ago in Oaxaca.

DAVID BROOKS: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: President Bush, Sr. was expected to attend the inauguration of Calderon?

DAVID BROOKS: Right. He’s supposedly leading the US delegation, along with Alberto Gonzales and the —

AMY GOODMAN: The Attorney General.

DAVID BROOKS: Attorney General. And they are supposed to be there. It looks like the foreign dignitaries — it wasn’t clear — might not show up at the congress. They might go to a separate event in the National Auditorium. But it’s unclear yet, because of the tension inside the Mexican congress, so even the celebration and the foreign dignitaries may not even convene at the congress this morning.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, John Gibler, in the Zocalo right now in Mexico City, you’ve come up from Oaxaca. You are a foreigner reporting in Oaxaca. First, what is the awareness in Mexico City of what’s happening in the southern state? And do you plan to return? Are you on a list?

JOHN GIBLER: Well, yes. The awareness is definitely — from my little experience traveling out of Oaxaca, is that there’s national awareness about what is happening in Oaxaca. Several of the national newspapers, such as La Jornada, Millennio and El Universal, have given very consistent coverage to the uprising in Oaxaca. And I definitely think it’s on the tip of tongues across the country and definitely here in the capital. I, myself, plan to return to Oaxaca in a couple of days, Monday or Tuesday. And whether or not I’m on a list, I don’t know, but I’ll definitely continue to go back and continue covering what’s going on there.

AMY GOODMAN: You say, John, you have evidence that the Mexican government lied about Brad Will’s death?

JOHN GIBLER: I have been researching — I’ve interviewed several people directly connected to the investigation, as well as the doctor who conducted the autopsy, and I’ve gotten a lot of evidence that they’ve lied in multiple cases. Very briefly, I was at the press conference with the state attorney general, where she said that the two bullets that entered Brad Will’s body were both fired point blank. She is now saying that she never said that. But I’ve got not only her quote, but the photograph of the Powerpoint slide. The autopsy doctor himself has said that there were no traces of gunpowder burning in the bullet wounds and that Brad was definitely not shot at point blank range, which was one of the key pieces of evidence that the state attorney general tried to use to say that members of the APPO, that the protesters themselves had shot Brad Will.

Another one of the more kind of quirky elements of their theory is that Brad Will himself was filming at the very moment of his death, when he was shot the first time — he was shot from straight on — and the state attorney general has the fantastical theory that Brad Will somehow turned his body 90 degrees without affecting his camera at all, as if he were filming ducks on a pond, and then received a bullet wound from the side. But I’ve interviewed at least five — I’ve interviewed five people who were present at that very moment, both protesters and national press correspondents, photographers at national newspapers here in Mexico City, who have told me that there was no gunfire at that moment from the protesters, that Brad was shot straight on from three city council members and state police or local police officers who were gathered about a block away.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to leave it there, and people can go to our website and see the video images that Brad Will himself took, essentially filming his own death, when he was videotaping as the men with the guns came forward. John Gibler speaking to us, independent journalist, from the streets of Mexico City, from the Zocalo. And David Brooks, US Bureau Chief for the Mexican daily newspaper, La Jornada. We are sorry we weren’t able to reach Gustavo Esteva, who is in Oaxaca right now.

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